Parties for Pooches

No clowns or magicians get hired for this birthday boy. A simple backyard romp with half a dozen friends suits Harley fine. Plus birthday cake, of course.

"Harley was born seven years ago on Thanksgiving and we've always done something special every year," says Liza Rawlings of Darien, Conn.

Something special usually includes grilling a T-bone steak for the 100-pound lab to share with his pals and scouting out pet-proof party hats. "They usually last for just one picture and then the dogs tear them apart," laughs Rawlings.

The annual soiree is by invitation only. "These are his longtime friends," says Rawlings, who spares no expense pampering her pet. Last year she bought Harley a Coach collar for his birthday. This year, Rawlings had her eye on a $250 Burberry vest, but even the largest size was a tad too tight for the beefy retriever. "I'm still searching for a nice present," she confided three weeks after the fact.

Perhaps it's the result of a booming economy, but the past few years have seen a notable increase in the number of parties for pooches.

Bow Wow Inc. in Deer Park, Long Island, N.Y., does a brisk business baking as many as 50 sugar-free cakes a week for the pet set. The cakes, offered in peanut butter or carrot models, look like standard bakery cakes and sell for $16 to $30, depending on size. If you plan to share it with your pooch, manager Tom Fallon recommends the peanut butter. "It's tastier," he states.

Their giant-size, customized dog biscuits are sold nationwide, but the cakes are available only in the New York area. "They are made fresh and hand-delivered," says Fallon.

Birthday hats and birthday scarves are a howling success at Taxi's in

"Birthdays are big for dogs," says owner Sunia Hood, who also sells
specially made carrot cakes in two sizes ($10.95 and $22.95) for her canine customers. "I just sent one out yesterday saying 'Happy 3rd Birthday Grizzly."

Feedback from the dogs is positive. "We had a woman call recently to say the dogs loved the cake, but the humans thought it was a little dry," says Hood. Her two shops, in Great Barrington and Northampton, also stock ready-to-buy birthday cupcakes and birthday bones.

Dog parks are a popular party site. At the Warren St. dog run in Manhattan, hosts typically provide something for the dog people to nosh on and treats for the pups. Nearby pet accessory shops find the demand for gifts and goody bags a small but healthy part of business. "Everything they buy is either to eat or chew," says Yvonne Fox, owner of Dudley's Paw in Tribeca. The typical gift package contains a squeaky toy, rawhides or bones. The tab? Under $20 as a rule, says Fox.

Jingle, a Parson Russell terrier in Norwalk, Conn., received a lifetime supply of tennis balls at her Dec. 3 backyard birthday party. Three Labs and a cocker spaniel – friends from the local dog field – romped around her backyard for half an hour, then the menagerie paraded to the dog field.

Keeping It Simple

Silly? Yes, but a good excuse for a party. "Children's parties have become so competitive and complicated. This was so simple – we made cupcakes and tea for the two-legged guests and put a handful of treats into 'doggie bags' for the four-legged guests," explains Jingle's owner. "It was nice to have some friends from the local dog field back to the house and a good opportunity for our 7-year-old to learn the nuts and bolts of party planning – choosing whom to invite, delivering invitations and tidying up the yard."

Another mom agrees. "My kids were so into the whole idea. That's why I did it," says Penne Weicker, who recently hosted an all-Westies party for the family dog's first birthday. "It was very manageable and the dogs had a good time," recalls Weicker of Darien, Conn. She put munchies out for the children and made goodie bags for the six West Highland terriers, all distant relatives of their dog, Sparky. "We did it in a half-hour and then went on with our day," says this busy mother of three.

Family cats, on the other hand, get their share of gifts but don't jive on the party scene. Rawlings bought her cat, Parker, a collar for his last birthday. "I usually cook him a nice piece of salmon or tuna," she notes. But even this veteran hostess draws the line on parties for Parker. "Cats aren't very sociable. You can't take them to a friend's
for a party," says Rawlings. Cats just aren't party animals.